Simple Last-Minute Nacho Plate

This Simple Last-Minute Nacho Plate comes together very quickly and is a huge crowd-pleaser at my house!

easy-nacho-plate

It’s almost embarrassing the amount of salsa we have been going through lately. Though I suppose our family goes through an embarrassing amount of pretty much everything, so never mind.

I was at Aldi a few weeks ago and put two cases of their organic salsa in my cart. Why get 1 jar when you can get 24, right? While in the check-out line, the lady behind me asked, “Oh! Did I miss a sale on salsa?” Nope. It’s a “we eat massive amounts of food at our house because of all the teenage boys” situation. That and I don’t live close to an Aldi and don’t get to shop there very often.

The great thing about any of the recipes I share that involve salsa is that you can use your favorite brand and your preferred mild-to-hot level.

Here are the latest Simple Recipes I’ve shared that involve salsa:

Other recipes you can find on my site that include salsa:

With all these recipes being so tasty and easy, it any wonder that I bought 24 jars of salsa at once?

This newest recipe idea, Simple Last-Minute Nacho Plate, is the result of what happened when I made a big batch of Meat and Cheese Burritos and had leftover filling. I didn’t have time (or desire) to make more tortillas, so I put the leftover meat/cheese/salsa mixture in the fridge. The next day we warmed up the mixture for lunch. We threw the delicious meaty goodness on top of tortilla chips with a few greens and whatever other toppings (olives, tomatoes, etc) that each person wanted.

It was then that I said to myself, “Why have I not done this before?” And a new Simple Recipe was born.

Now, take note that while this is called a “Last-Minute” recipe, you most certainly do not have to wait until the last minute to make it. Sure, it’s a recipe that can save your neck if you didn’t plan ahead and you need a meal on the fly. But the meat mixture stays good in the fridge for several days so you can make it ahead of time and pull it out to warm up as needed. It also freezes well, so you can make a double or triple batch and freeze it in meal-sized portions for your family to thaw and re-heat on busy days.

Simple Last-Minute Nacho PlateYum

Simple Last-Minute Nacho Plate
 
Author:
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1½ pounds ground beef
  • 15-ounces salsa
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • Tortilla chips and your favorite nacho fixin's
Instructions
  1. Brown hamburger meat until it is no longer pink.
  2. Stir in salsa and cheese.
  3. Serve on a plate of tortilla chips with your favorite nacho fixin's.

simple-last-minute-nacho-plate

Here are more Simple Recipes you will love:

Those simple recipes are just the beginning. We’re taking it all to the next level so that not only are our recipes easy and nourishing – you don’t even have to think about what to prepare or purchase! Jump in with all the others who have joined…

Simple Meals

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Here’s what Michelle said about Simple Meals: YAY. I love it. I am very thankful you are doing the “work” part of meals for me.

Hey, our pleasure. We love it too. :)

Question: How much do you love salsa at your house?

Homemade Onion Soup Mix (with No MSG!)

Save money and use real food ingredients when you make Onion Soup Mix!

I’m at church camp this week, loving life, swatting bugs, and trying to stay hydrated. While I’m gone, you can enjoy a re-posting of some of our most popular time-saving, money-saving, healthier eating mix recipes

Originally posted March, 2011

So far in this Heavenly Homemakers Recipe Challenge, we’ve come up with recipes for Homemade Tator Tots, Healthier Chocolate Milk and Teriyaki Sauce. I attempted a recipe for corn tortillas and while they tasted pretty good…they were NOT easy to make, they fell apart and looked ugly. I’m going to keep working on that one until I come up with a corn tortilla recipe that doesn’t take the whole afternoon to make. :)

This new recipe in The Challenge was super easy to put together! Vicki, one of our readers, sent me an Onion Soup Mix recipe to try and WOW is it simple! I tweaked it a teeny tiny bit, but really, this recipe is more Vicki’s than mine.

What I love about this recipe is that I didn’t have to look high and low for the ingredients.  Many onion soup recipes I found call for some sort of bouillon. Almost always, bouillon has MSG. There are MSG free bouillon varieties out there, but what if they aren’t easily accessible to you? And so…I was very happy to see this recipe that contained just dried herbs and spices!

Onion Soup MixYum

Homemade Onion Soup Mix (with No MSG!)
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • ⅔ cup dried, minced onion
  • 3 teaspoons parsley flakes
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon sucanat (or sugar if you prefer)
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
Instructions
  1. Mix all ingredients in a jar, then give the jar a good shake.
  2. I'd recommend shaking the jar to mix the ingredients well before each use.
  3. Use 4 Tablespoons Onion Soup Mix in a recipe in place of 1 packet of onion soup mix.  (I actually found that 2 Tablespoons was plenty in a beef stew recipe I tried.)
  4. Store this in a dry, cool place.

onion_soup_mix

I used the Onion Soup Mix in this simple, one dish stew and YUM!
Find the recipe for Simple One Dish Meat and Potato Meal here.

And with that…I have to ask:

SO many of you requested this recipe that I’m guessing you all must have tons of wonderful ways of using Onion Soup Mix? I would LOVE for you to share what you do with this mix!!! I have exactly two recipes that call for Onion Soup Mix. I’m so excited to use this mix in those recipes because I’ve not made them for years. But what else??? What do you make with Onion Soup Mix??

Fat vs. Sugar. Which is the True Enemy?

Today let’s talk Fat vs. Sugar.


I was a little girl when I began to hear people say things like…

  • “Low fat is the way to go. We should only eat #?# fat grams per day.” (I can’t remember the exact number. I just remember faithfully counting my fat grams daily as a teen.)
  • “A bacon cheeseburger? That’s a heart attack on a plate.”
  • “Butter?! Butter is terrible for you! We only eat margarine.”
  • “No beef. Just chicken. White meat. Skinless.”

I remember vividly when my mom started following a low-fat diet. I joined her because I was a teenage girl who most certainly didn’t want to get fat by eating fat. I remember hating my fat free turkey breast on low fat bread with fat free mayonnaise. But I ate those sandwiches faithfully for lunches because I was convinced that was the “healthy” way to go.

Oh my gag-ness. I can still imagine the taste of fat free mayo and it makes me turn green. What was in that stuff?

It’s funny (not funny) to me that I actually thought I needed to sacrifice good tasting food in order to be healthy. What a sad mis-conception.

I remember snacking on baked, fat free chips (aka salted cardboard).
I didn’t even like them, but seeing as I was into eating healthy…I made the sacrifice.

That was over three decades ago. I’d like to think we are making progress toward getting away from these untruths about what is actually healthy or unhealthy about our food.

I’m grateful to see that at least the coconut oil trend has caught on. But I still frequently hear people talk about fat as if it is the enemy. I’m determined to educate people about this.

A New Generation of Fat Eaters? Maybe?

Justus, my 16-year old, doesn’t get why people get freaked out about fat. He’s been eating the “real food” way since he was 6 – so fat isn’t scary to him. He knows what it means to eat food our bodies recognize, and he definitely knows that the real food at our house tastes great (atta boy). Recently he was talking about a conversation with friends. He had been telling them about his “mom’s homemade french fries” and they were like, “What? You eat french fries? At your house? I thought you only ate healthy food!” And he was like, “Ummm. Yeahhh???”

Friends of Asa, our oldest son, watched as he salted his food liberally in the college cafeteria. We chuckled when we heard his friends’ conclusion that, “He’s probably doing that because he’s used to eating bland, healthy food at his house.” Hahahaha! Please pass the sea salt and slather on the butter and watch me eat the crispy, flavorful skin of a chicken. Real food tastes so amazing I don’t even know where to begin.

I suppose I could begin by comparing it to that Fat-Free Mayo. Gag me.

Well anyway.

So not everyone is there yet. There is still a lot of confusion as to what actually is good and healthy. Since we have believed (and taught our children) for several decades that fat is bad, I believe it will take a few more decades to undo the damage and re-educate people about whole foods and nourishment.

coconut_oil

Good Fat is Good

I’ve done extensive research on the subject of fat. I didn’t jump aboard the “fat is good” train just because I heard someone say it once or because I “read an article somewhere.” After all, I was riding the “fat is bad” train for many years, so getting on a different train was a little bit hard for me. Real butter? Are you sure I should it eat?? Beef? I don’t know. Bacon? Well now you’re pushing it. I really don’t want to get fat. I’m not sure I can eat this stuff.

So I read and I researched and I found sources and I asked questions. (Some of my favorite sources include Weston Price Foundation and Dr. Mercola. Note that this article I found in my research quotes 73 different sources. These people are thorough!)

I looked in depth into the history of food trends and the health problems that came with them. The results of my research tell a story that is almost completely upside-down compared to what I had heard about fat. (Ironically, I’d never researched the low-fat thing when I started eating a low-fat diet. I just went with what I heard and stuck with it for years. Not smart.)

The truth is that the instances of heart disease and obesity did not rise until after the low-fat trend began. Alternatively, as people started cutting the fat, many started consuming much larger quantities of sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Fast food replaced home-cooked meals. Fruits and vegetables took a back seat (or didn’t even get a seat at all). Donuts and poptarts and sugary cereal became a morning standard. White bread and chips filled the lunch boxes.

Ultimately, we forgot to give our bodies nourishment.

Occurrences of destructive health conditions soared. We blamed the fat.

jelly-beans_fyb6Xwtu

I actually thought jelly beans were healthy because they were fat free.
Avocados, though. I stayed away from those high-fat things. What???
Let us all rejoice that I actually started reading the facts and using logic. 

So fat vs. sugar?

Refined sugar doesn’t nourish. It’s fun and it’s tasty but what does it offer the body so that it will thrive? On the contrary, when we eat it, our bodies have to work very hard to find something to do with it. When it finds little to no useful nutrients, it calls in the reserves, depleting us and killing our immune system. Then often, whatever can’t be used gets tucked away in storage (aka, it turns to fat).

Some would tell you to never eat refined sugar. I say: be informed and use wisdom. Treats are fun. But keep ’em treats. ;)

butter

Shall we go crazy with the fat then?

Our bodies are smart. If we listen, they tell us what we need, what to eat, and when to stop. Your body doesn’t want you to eat an entire stick of butter in one sitting just because it’s good for you. But your body probably won’t mind if you eat a nice thick pat of it on your veggies knowing that it adds great nutrients and amazing flavor.

It’s important to remember that we need to eat food in balance. I don’t think we need to go overboard – keeping track of what we eat when and how much and what time and with what. When I say “eat food in balance” I mean that when we eat a variety of wholesome foods, we will naturally be eating the right blend of nutrients and getting the right amount of naturally occurring fats, sugars, proteins, vitamins, etc.

All food comes perfectly packaged with a lovely blend of nutrients. Some food is naturally fat free and high in natural sugar. (Have you met my friend the strawberry?) Some food is naturally high in fat and tastes amazing with a strawberry. (Cream, meet Strawberry. Be my BFF.)

We eat a lot of fat in our house, but it’s all balanced with many other high-nutrient foods that work together to nourish.

Fats to Avoid

There are certainly fats I stay far away from. Some fats are manufactured and our bodies cannot use them for nourishment. When considering which fats to focus on and which to avoid – remember that we’re going for nourishment, helping our bodies thrive on food that offers cells something to work with, not fight against.

This article on fats says it all much better than I can, so do go read it. In summary:

  • Hydrogenated Oils cannot be digested and utilized in our bodies.
  • Soybean oil, canola oil, and most vegetable oils aren’t great for many reasons. What most resonates with me is that they go rancid very, very quickly and can turn into trans fats when heated.
  • Margarine didn’t even make this list of fats, so I’m going to take that to mean it doesn’t count as food, the end.

Fats that Nourish

Obviously, not every person can tolerate every food or fat. But these are the fats that should be considered for nourishment. (Again, details here.)

  • Coconut Oil
  • Real Butter
  • Palm Oil
  • Olive Oil (at room temp)
  • Animal Fat from Meat, Eggs, and Dairy
  • Natural occurring fat in nuts, avocados, and seeds

Why We Need Good Fats

Fats carry vitamins and minerals to our cells. Fats give us energy. Fats help us fight depression. Fats help us concentrate. Fats satisfy and keep us from excessive hunger. Fats help us maintain a healthy weight. Who knew? Fat doesn’t make you fat.

Always Consider: What Nourishes?

To feel your best, focus on eating food that nourishes. Our bodies need food that feeds the cells with what they can absorb and utilize.

Obviously, there is so much more that goes with optimal health (exercise, hydrating, so much more). But when it comes to food choices – we must choose real food that nourishes.

Weigh In

I’d love to hear what you learned about fat while you were growing up. How has that effected the way you eat now? What is your current status in the fat vs. sugar debate?

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Are you in? Join many others who are making simple, healthy changes this month to take steps toward better health. Learn more here. (There’s a $100 prize involved!)

Ready to join? It’s free and refreshing to know we’ll be working on this as a team. Sign up here!

Communication in Marriage: The Tale of Two French Fries

I originally posted this in 2012. Since that time, Matt and I have spent quite a bit of time mentoring and counseling couples who are soon to be married. This is the story we always tell when we’re introducing the topic of communication. Since it’s so good for all of us to be reminded of this truth, I felt this story was worth posting for you again…

What French Fries Teach Us About Communication

Matt and I have some wonderful friends who once shared with us a fun story of something they learned within the first year of their marriage. This story has everything to do with french fries…but really nothing at all to do with french fries. Hang with me here.

I’ve taken a little bit of literary license here since I don’t know the exact details of how everything went for our friends, plus, I’m really just trying to make a point. Also, while telling this story, I’ll call our friends Gertrude and Hank, because shucks, thinking of fictitious names for our friends is just downright fun.

Gertrude and Hank were delighted to be newlyweds and as with all couples in love, they were eager to please each other in every way. As you can imagine, this desire to please each other was quite apparent when they dined together on french fries. Isn’t it always? I mean, this is the stuff Hallmark cards are made of.

Gertrude absolutely loves the fat, soggy type of french fries. Hank, on the other hand, much prefers the thin, crispy, crunchy french fries. And so, in this couple’s desire to show love and care for one another, each was sure to give the other the best, most tasty french fries.

Gertrude, because of her love of big, soggy fries, always placed the fattest, soggiest french fries on Hank’s plate. He cheerfully accepted them and sacrificially ate the plump potatoes, knowing that he would then be allowing his beloved to eat the choicest of fries – the thin, crispy, crunchy ones. Both Gertrude and Hank were thrilled to be pleasing one another by giving up what they knew to be the best of the fries.

And so it went for months, every time the couple ate french fries together.

Until finally, one day, Gertrude and Hank participated in a little bit of french fry communication. Somehow, the truth came out about each person’s french fry preference and their desire to give up what they each really wanted in order to please the other one. Lo and behold, in their effort to please each other, and in their failure to communicate, they had both been wrong in their assumption of what the other truly wanted. Thus, they had both been choking down french fries that neither of them really liked.

The End.

The moral of the story is that you and your spouse need to always be very up front about your french fry preferences. And also, you should communicate often about other, more important details in life and in your marriage. It is important to be selfless as you work to please your spouse, but for goodness sake, communicate.

Gertrude and Hank were doing what they thought was best for one other. They were both playing the martyr, sacrificing their own desires, in the name of love, for their spouse. But the end result was that no one was happy with their french fries. What a waste of good ketchup. 

Talk to your spouse. Be up front with your desires.  And for the love (or not) of crispy french fries, always communicate.

P.S. Gertrude and Hank – you guys rock. Thank you for the way Jesus shines through your godly marriage.

High Five Recipes: Easy Butterscotch Bars

People can’t get enough of these butterscotch bars. They’re made with whole wheat flour but no one knows. They’re made with only five ingredients that you probably have on hand – so easy!

butterscotch_bars

I originally posted this recipe in 2010, but decided to post it again for you today. Why? Because butterscotch bars. And also because I have only been home 3 of the past 11 days so I’m behinder than ever. While I play catch up and work on new projects (wait till you see!), I wanted to bless you a recipe so you could bless others.

High Five Recipes 2

You’ll be glad to know that this is a High Five Recipe! (High quality recipes + five ingredients or less = High Five Recipe)

This is not a Low Sugar Recipe, however. So make them to share with others, and saver them slowly (as opposed to gobbling down half the pan before you realize what happened).

 

Easy Butterscotch BarsYum

3.3 from 3 reviews
High Five Recipes: Easy Butterscotch Bars
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 1¾ cups sucanat or brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups whole wheat flour
Instructions
  1. Stir melted butter and sucanat together.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla, mixing well.
  3. Stir in flour and mix until well combined.
  4. Pour batter into a 9x13 inch baking pan.
  5. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes.

These bars are gooey, rich, and need I remind you to make them to share with friends?

Now that I’ve been making these butterscotch bars for so many years, I get frequent requests for them.

  • “Laura, would it be too much for me to ask you to make a batch of your butterscotch bars for me for my birthday? Like very year for the rest of my life?”
  • “Laura, my friends and I were talking about your butterscotch bars and now we want some. I told them I’d ask…can you make us a batch?”
  • “How much arm twisting would it take for you to make another pan of your butterscotch bars?”

These requests make my day, and since the bars are so easy to make, I almost always say yes! If you haven’t tried these bars yet, do it. They’re crazy easy, but beware: people will beg you to make more. You’ll have more friends than you ever had before and everyone will love you for providing the butterscotch bars. It’s hard, but you can handle it.

Easy Butterscotch Bars - Five Ingredients!

My Adventures in Making Homemade Nutella

Homemade Nutella, anyone?

Nutella

It all began at Asa’s graduation party with two other graduates last May. The moms and I planned it together and they decided to go all out. One of the items on our menu was “crusty bread with different topping options” like meats, cheeses, and nutella (though probably not all at the same time). My friends and I set out a lovely buffet. I was the one in charge of purchasing the condiments, sauces, and Nutella.

grad party 4

Not knowing how many hundreds of people might show up and how many of those hundreds would want to spread Nutella on their bread – I bought four enormous containers of it. We went through exactly 1.5 of those huge tubs, so guess what we’ve been eating since May?

My boys have been so sad about this.

We finally finished them off, and now the boys are having Nutella withdrawals. I can’t stand to buy more, so I determined to figure out a healthier option that I can feel better about. Some of you might remember that I attempted Homemade Nutella a few years ago. That was tasty, though still had quite a bit of sugar. I had a terrible time actually finding Hazelnuts this go around – but part of my problem was that the price was throwing me off.

The good news is (now that I’ve attempted this recipe and learned a few tricks) – it takes only a few hazelnuts to make a batch of nutella. So my purchase will go a long way to providing a healthier nutella option for the fam.

nutella2

Malachi’s been my chef-in-training the past few weeks and was very excited to enjoy Nutella again. He joined me in putting together this recipe. Here he is pushing a button. (Cooking is so hard.)

I’m excited that this version of Homemade Nutella is lower in sugar than most. If you prefer, use expeller pressed coconut oil since it is flavorless and won’t effect the taste.

Make Your Own Nutella

My Adventures in Making Homemade Nutella
 
Author:
Serves: half pint
Ingredients
  • ⅔ cup hazelnuts
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ cup melted coconut oil
  • ½-2/3 cup real maple syrup
Instructions
  1. Lay the hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and toast them in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes.
  2. Remove skins if necessary.
  3. Whirl toasted hazelnuts in a food processor until smooth.
  4. Add remaining ingredients and blend until creamy.
  5. Store in a half-pint jar for up to three weeks.

Make Your Own Nutella

Have you tried making Nutella before?

It’s fun, easy, and yummy – and unlike Homemade Peanut Butter Captain Crunch – this one is worth the small time investment. :)

My Real Food Purchase Priorities In Order From One to Eight

If I had to sum up the past 11 years of my personal real food journey, I’d say I have gone from poptarts to psycho to chill. No one liked the psycho phase – not even me. I coped by drinking Pepsi. Do not ask me to make sense of this. Read the details here, if you dare.

Now, I’d like to spend a few minutes answering a much requested question as of late:

“What are your current real food priorities?”

Now that I’ve been doing the real food thing for 11 years – if I had to make a list of the foods I feel are most important to buy and put them in order of highest priority down to lowest, what would that look like? Also, where does organic fall in this list? What about raw? How about grass fed? What about hormones? How about margarine? Oh, c’mon. Everyone knows how I feel about margarine.

(Just in case: DON’T EAT MARGARINE EVER, EVER IN YOUR LIFE, EVER.)

The past few weeks, I have spent quite a bit of time pondering my current food priorities, which no doubt, may look different than yours. If you’ve been reading here for years, you’ve watched my priorities change along with the seasons in my life (psycho to chill ~ little boys to teenage boys ~ small budget to huge budget). I look forward to hearing about your priorities too! For now, here are mine:

1. Fruits and Vegetables

You know I can’t say enough about eating many, many fruits and vegetables every day. I do buy some of them organic if they are available and within my budget – but mostly – I just buy them. Organic is best, absolutely. But I found that I was not buying and eating enough when I was focused on only buying organic produce. I live in too small a town to have enough organic options, plus the cost is prohibitive for my family. We go through pounds and pounds of produce every week. I spend at least $100-$150 on fruits and vegetables alone – every week. I would triple that number if I bought exclusively organic. I can’t, so I don’t.

Organic or not, a big variety of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables is definitely my highest grocery priority.

feb 5 groceries

2. Healthy Fats

I considered making this my #1 priority, simply because switching to real-food fats is what I always advise as one of the easiest healthy changes a person can make. But seeing as I eat more veggies than butter every day (shocking, I know) – I went ahead with fats as number 2.

I see fats as super important in our diet – and I believe eating the good kind is crucial. Our bodies struggle to digest and utilize hydrogenated oils and chemically created oils. It’s best to avoid them altogether.

On the other hand, coconut oil is a health food rock-star. Real butter is recognized by our bodies and can be very nourishing. Palm shortening is easily digested and a wonderful alternative to crisco. Olive oil is wonderful (but best at low temps) – great for salad dressings.

If you change nothing else about how you eat and feed your family – add more fruits and vegetables and switch bad fats for good ones. I can’t say enough about these two priorities. Our bodies need nourishment and in my opinion (based on research and real life) – fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats are some of the best foods that pack a nourishing punch.

coconut_oil

3. Good Meat and Eggs

I make this a high priority mainly because we go through quite a bit of meat and eggs at our house. Our sons are athletic and active – they need a lot of good protein beyond beans and nuts!

We are blessed to have access to wonderful farm-fresh meats and eggs (at reasonable prices) where I live. I love that my chicken, beef, lamb, and eggs come from animals who are fed well and allowed to roam free. This is important enough to me that if we ever moved to another location, I would search out good meat and egg sources. Buying regular ol’ meat and eggs from the store would be tough for me now that we’ve been so spoiled with the good stuff. I can taste a huge difference! (But I still say that if store-bought is your only option, you never need to fret. God is bigger than a free-range chicken. Amen?)

chicken week 1

4. Whole Grains

Number 4-5-6 could probably be interchanged with one another, but here is where they ultimately landed.

We’ve cut way back on grains – making fruits, veggies, and meat the main focus of our meals. But I still make whole grains a priority because they help stretch our food budget. They also help keep my life in the kitchen simpler. It’s easy for me to whip up (or have the boys whip up) a triple batch of pancakes or a big bunch of muffins or a few loaves of Stir-and-Pour Bread to go with our meals.

It is important to me that our grains be whole and nourishing, not just filling and empty. If at all possible, I do like our wheat, oats, rice, corn, and other grains to be organic and non-GMO. I’m blessed to have a Nutrimill to grind our own flour – which makes our baked goods incredibly delicious.

wheat

5. Healthy Sweeteners

I’ve recently shared that I rarely buy sucanat anymore because of the expense. In addition, I can no longer tolerate much sugar. Seeing as none of us need sugary treats, and our boys get plenty from all their outside activities – I am making fewer dessert-y foods overall.

But I love our raw, local honey. We use real maple syrup on our waffles and pancakes. Sucanat or brown sugar are used in my baked goods. And liquid stevia has become a staple. I keep all of these on hand at all times, usually buying them online.

sucanat

6. Dairy Products

I hesitated putting this one way down here, but when I look at the quality of most of our dairy products – they are usually just straight from the grocery store, which shows that I no longer make this a huge priority. We do buy a gallon of raw, organic milk from local farmers each week. Funny, isn’t it, and my family of big eaters only uses one gallon of milk each week? That’s because we just use it for cooking. None of my boys likes drinking milk, and our natural doctor has recommended that it isn’t a big need. So I don’t make milk a big priority. I love that I can get the good stuff, though!

As for cheese and cream – right now I have chosen to save money by skipping the organic/raw varieties. We buy these items on sale at a regular grocery store.

I should also mention that I do still make our buttermilk from our raw, farm-fresh milk. I only make yogurt and kefir occasionally – mostly in the summer when we’re making more smoothies! (I’ve also been using coconut milk more often for this type of drink – mainly to give our bodies variety of nutrients.)

buttermilk

7. Nuts and Beans

We love making our own Peanut Butter and Almond Butter. I like buying organic nuts if I can, either from Azure Standard or Braga Farms. I buy organic beans in bulk from Azure – though we really don’t go through them very quickly. They aren’t a favorite around here.

peanut butter

8. The Other Stuff

There are many other food items – from spices to baking powder – that I haven’t mentioned here. Just like all the rest – if I find a good organic source for these foods, I go for it. If not, I don’t sweat it as long as it still qualifies as “real food.” We also sometimes buy a convenience food item (like chips!) balancing those with plenty of nourishing options. I feel like I’ve probably forgotten some major food group in this list of priorities – so fire away with your questions!

real_salt

How about you?

I’d love to hear what you consider to be your top priorities when purchasing food for your family!

The Easiest, Healthiest Side Dishes

After I finish detailing my favorite healthy side dishes to serve my family, you are going to be so unimpressed and bored that you will fall asleep on the spot. This post is like a lullaby, sung sweetly to you after you’ve had a warm bath and a mug of milk. Pin this post. You will want it to refer back to on the nights you’re anxious to relax and have a good night’s sleep.

See, the thing is that I’ve simplified my real food kitchen life so much during the past few years that I barely think about or plan ahead for side dishes anymore. Do I serve them? Absolutely! In fact, I serve at least 2 if not 4 side dish options at almost every lunch or dinner. But here’s my trick:

I set out a variety of fruits and vegetables based on what I have and what will offer healthy options for my family to choose from.

That’s it. I rarely mash a potato anymore. For me, side dishes are no longer something that require much work. There is no time!! The main dish gets my attention and the side dishes are a variety of fruits and veggies that make our plates pretty and offer oodles of nourishment.

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Every once in a while I go all out and steam some broccoli and carrots. Phew. Big day. Otherwise, I do something like wash some berries, slice some pears, and throw some frozen peas in a pot to cook (which they do all by themselves in about 4 minutes).

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More often than not, prepping the side dishes is the job I hand my boys. “Peel 6 clementines.” “Cook some green beans, please.” “Wash the raspberries.”

Do you see how easy this is? Side dishes at our house get pulled out of the fridge or freezer just a few minutes before the meal is served. They take very little prep, yet they are the most nourishing part of our meal. Side dishes are almost always served in the container they came in or the pot they were steamed in. In case you’re wondering why I ask a boy to peel clementines when we could all just peel our own (which we do sometimes) – it’s this.

You might also be interested in another post I wrote recently about How to Easily Add Fruits and Veggies to a Meal.

Easily Add Fruits and Veggies to Your Meal

Healthy, easy side dishes come down to these three rules at my house:

  1. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season and affordable. (You can’t serve ’em if you don’t buy ’em.)
  2. Keep frozen veggies in the freezer ready to steam quickly before a meal.
  3. Be intentional about offering a variety of these goodies with every meal.

Every week, I buy big containers of mixed greens and fresh baby spinach. Boom. We have salad.

I buy whatever berries are on sale, which we wash and plop on the table. I buy grape tomatoes in season (or grow them when it isn’t -3°). I buy apples and pears, which can be washed and sliced in 30 seconds. I buy heads of broccoli, big bags of carrots, and lovely cucumbers – all of which can be prepared for cooking or served raw in just a few minutes. I always have jars of homemade applesauce or homemade pickles to pull out.

Below are some pictures I came across that show the variety of easy side dishes I serve. Notice how little prep these took:

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alfredo leftovers 2

Cream Cheese Chicken

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food week may 96

colorful plate

And there you have it. Nothing terribly exciting – just simple side dishes that our family eats regularly. We get a variety, we get plenty of nourishment, we don’t wear ourselves out making the prep work tedious. That works for me!

So what works for you? What are your favorite side dishes?

227 Healthy Snacks eBook ~ Win One for You and One for a Friend!

As Christmas approaches, I thought it would be fun to give away some of our most popular shop items. Then I decided it would be even more fun if you had a chance to win one for you and one for a friend! We began with Learn Your Letters (and Numbers), Learn to Serve Complete Curriculum Kits. Be sure to enter for a chance to win copies for you and a friend here.

Today, we’re giving away copies of 227 Healthy Snacks eBook!

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I think you’ll love these snack ideas and recipes as much as my family does.

This book contains 59 pages full of 227 awesome snacking ideas.  These have all become our snacking staples, and they are sure to become yours too!

  • All 227 of these snack ideas and recipes can be prepared ahead of time for easy snacking.
  • More than 200 can be prepared or mixed up in a matter of a few minutes.
  • 145 of them are naturally gluten free or are recipes that can be easily adapted to become gluten free.

And how about the 78 recipes in this book?  I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had creating new recipes for this resource!  From homemade Payday candy bar knock-offs to oyster crackers to hearty cookies and bars to several varieties of crackers and so much more – you will love these simple, real food recipes.  Just for fun, I’ve even perfected a homemade fruit snack (lightly sweetened with honey)!

227 Healthy Snacks

 

Read more details about 227 Healthy Snacks here.

If you’d like to win a copy of this book for yourself and for a friend, leave a comment on this post. Be sure to tell your friends about it so they can come enter too. It gives you more chances to win, assuming your friend will share one with you if she wins!

I’ll draw a random winner on Wednesday, December 30. Be watching for a post sharing the winners of these Christmas giveaways. You’ll be responsible for contacting me if your name is chosen!

Now think of a friend you’d love to bless. Leave a comment here for a chance to win copies of these books for both of you!

Homemade Apple Cider in the Crock Pot

Once upon a time, my friend Anne and I went to an orchard nearby and picked over 100 pounds of apples. At the time we had 6 children – ages 12 and under – between the two of us. Therefore, I think it is obvious that neither of us had enough to do with our time and we were frequently bored. That’s why we picked so many apples. That, and the fact that the apples were (mostly) organic, very delicious, and wonderfully priced. Most importantly of all though, it is so much fun to take your kids to an orchard to pick fruit. Days like this are some of my favorite memories of time spent with my boys when they were little.

On that very 100-pound apple day, we borrowed the orchard owner’s apple cider press. He kindly came to our house to set it up, promising to come pick it up again when we were finished using it. Our plan was to get all of our kids involved with pressing cider the old fashioned way. Wouldn’t that be fun?! It was a good plan. A beautiful idea, really.

And so we began.

Oh my goodness, I just realized I have pictures. I have pictures!!! 

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Those pictures make me so happy, I cannot stop giggling. Such precious memories!!! I am going to sit here looking at those for the next few hours. After all, five out of six of those kids are teenagers now, so we are more bored than ever.

Well anyway, it didn’t take long for Anne and I to realize that having our small children press 100 pounds of apples into cider all afternoon was probably a bit unrealistic (you think?). Each child took a turn, then they all headed off to play. Anne and I spend the next few hours pressing cider like super-heros. We got stiff. We got sore. We had a blast. We were a sticky mess. But we had gallons of apple cider by the end of the day.

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It was fresh. It was raw. It was the best apple cider ever to be made or consumed on this planet.

If I may, I encourage you to find opportunities to pick fruit with your children. There is something so sweet about this experience. Make cider in an apple press if you ever have a chance. It is so much fun. You will look back at this and the pictures you took whilst pressing apples and you will be so in love with the memories.

In the meantime, I have another homemade apple cider recipe option for you. Just this year, I learned to make apple cider in the crock pot. It is much less work than a cider press, though obviously not nearly as endearing. Still, this recipe turned out delicious. I added no sugar! It’s just apples, water, and cinnamon sticks. Deliciousness!

Hot Apple Cider

Homemade Apple Cider in the Crock PotYum

5.0 from 2 reviews
Homemade Apple Cider in the Crock Pot
 
Author:
Serves: about ½ gallon
Ingredients
  • 10-15 apples, any variety
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 4-6 cups of water
Instructions
  1. Wash, core, and quarter apples.
  2. Place them in a crock pot with the cinnamon sticks.
  3. Add water, enough to fill the crock about ⅔ full of water (but not enough to cover the apples and cinnamon sticks).
  4. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until the apples are very soft.
  5. Use a potato masher to mash the apples and release the liquid.
  6. Cover and allow the cider to cook on low for another hour.
  7. Strain the chunky liquid through a thin cloth. (I saved the solids and blended them to make apple bread.)
  8. Serve warm or store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Homemade Apple Cider in the Crock Pot

This recipe isn’t super specific on measurements. I simply fill my crock pot with cored apples, throw in cinnamon sticks, pour in water to fill about 1/2-2/3 full, then let it cook. Your house will smell like the holidays all day long – an added bonus!

Have you ever made apple cider – using a press or a crock pot or another method?